How do you build vertically while still remaining on the grassroots level where community exists? This was a challenge uniquely suited to Leong Leong, who are creating the Asian Americans for Equality’s sweeping new Center for Community and Entrepreneurship in Flushing, Queens.
With this project, Leong Leong continue their architectural mission of creating space for otherwise marginalized communities, which was previously made manifest with their creation of the new L.A. LGBT Center in Hollywood. A key strategy for the implementation of this project is they ingenious ways the architects are able to deconstruct the inside-outside dichotomy that can often make structures seem walled off, which can be particularly off-putting to individuals who might already find themselves mistrusting institutions.
For the AAFE building, Leong Leong partnered with JCJ Architecture, one of the nation’s leading firms, who helped to ensure that seamless project delivery. We were lucky enough to have a chance to talk to Leong Leong about the partnership and the project in general.
Can you talk about the collaboration between JCJ Architecture and Leong Leong on this project?
DL: JCJ Architecture and Leong Leong formed this collaboration out of a common interest in working with mission-driven organizations and how community typologies transform the city. The team seamlessly brings together the expertise of JCJ Architecture, a well-established national practice with over eighty years of experience in community-focused projects, with Leong Leong, a design firm known for visionary typologies that shape the contemporary city. The design is a new hybrid that fulfills the mission of AAFE by creating an interface that facilitates entrepreneurial collaboration and community building for Flushing.
What insights did you take away from the L.A. LGBT Center project that you’re bringing to bear on this new project?
DL: We see architecture as a platform and an interface to a larger public for previously marginalized communities. The Anita May Rosenstein Campus for the Los Angeles LGBT Center in Hollywood CA is a 180,000square-foot mixed-use campus, which is a trans generational community that activates both the neighborhood and serves as an interface for the LGBT to a larger public. Positioning architecture as a tool for social innovation and progress we wanted to create architecture that responds to new forms of community and collectivity. Our responsibility as designers is to continually explore how we live and what new typologies support new forms of collectivity relative to work, gathering, and interaction.
CL: Both organizations exist to support marginalized and minority communities, and they both support those communities within the city at large. One of the big takeaways from working with the Los Angeles LGBT Center was working to understand their priorities and learning to translate the mission of the building into a physical form in meaningful way. The Los Angeles LGBT Center was really about creating a horizontal campus that integrates the surrounding neighborhood. In Flushing, the Center for Community and Entrepreneurship is more about a vertically-integrated community that seamlessly links work, events, and the public.
The images I’ve seen suggest that your design for the project plays a little with deconstructing traditional inside/outside dichotomies. Is that something you set out to do with the AAFE Center?
CL: One of the main goals of the project is to make the interior spaces as accessible as possible to the public and, likewise, to make the internal activities of the building visible to the exterior. There is a three-story open staircase that not only facilitates circulation, but also serves as an informal gathering space that draws you up through the building and encourages collaboration and interaction. At the ground floor, the staircase provides terraced seating for the public market. On the second and third floor, the staircase transforms into an event and performance space for screenings, lectures, and other community-based events.
DL: One of the core programs in the building is a co-working and incubator space, which is becoming a very common workspace type. What makes this incubator really unique and different from other models is that, in this case, we are very interested in linking the space of co-working to the city, and specifically to the neighborhood of Flushing. We are in new paradigm of urbanism where the interconnectivity between spaces of collaboration and the city is critical. In that sense, bringing the outside in and the inside out is very important to this project.
Perhaps a related question is how did you settle on the materials for the structure, particularly the extensive use of glass?
CL: The envelope of the building is a gradient of transparencies, maximizing visual connection at the street level while maintaining a distinct silhouette as an urban landmark from afar. The most transparent lower two floors contain the most public programs maximizing interaction with the neighborhood at street level. As the programs become more introverted at the upper floors the opacity of the curtain wall increases but still allows for views of the Flushing Creek waterfront to the West. At night, the sculptural form of the interlocking volumes will be expressed in the varying luminosity of the façade.